OCD and Memory

by ddpavumba freedigitalphotos.net

by ddpavumba freedigitalphotos.net

 

As many of you know, my son Dan dealt with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder about seven years ago. Memories of those dark days are etched in my mind, as well as on paper in my book, Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery. Many details are just as vivid to me now as when they happened, though I’d happily prefer them not to be.

Dan and I rarely talk about those times, but I remember on occasion trying to discuss specific events and incidents with him, probably two or three years after he’d made a remarkable recovery. His answer to all my queries was always the same: “I don’t remember.”

At first I thought this reply was just an excuse not to have to talk about those difficult times, and honestly, I wouldn’t blame Dan if this was the case. But as time went on, and Dan moved on, he still didn’t seem to remember much about the painful times.

I’m wondering why, and if this is common in those who have managed to beat OCD?

One theory I have is that Dan’s lack of memory stems from the fact that he was overmedicated for a good part of his ordeal. Once Dan was off all his meds, positive changes were obvious to his family and close friends. His depression lifted and more often than not, he was actually happy. His OCD, in his own words, was “practically non-existent” at this time. But when his psychiatrist asked him how he felt once he was off all his meds, Dan replied that he basically felt the same as when he’d been taking the drugs. I was shocked, and the only explanation I could come up with was that he was in such a fog on all his medications that he wasn’t even aware of how he felt.

It seems as if these memories are still inaccessible to him. A defense mechanism perhaps? Studies have shown that stress can sometimes have a negative impact on memory. Maybe this is why Dan barely remembers those tormenting times?

As I said, it’s something I wonder about sometimes. But I certainly don’t dwell on it. And that’s because I know Dan remembers what is important. He remembers that while OCD tried to steal his life from him, he did everything in his power to fight back. He accepted help, embraced exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, learned he was stronger than his OCD, and subsequently defeated it.

If he could do it, others can too.

Now that’s something worth remembering.

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11 Responses to OCD and Memory

  1. Very interesting! I have noticed that when I’m stressed, my decision making skills and memory are just dreadful! However, I didn’t know that it was a common reaction. Thanks for posting!

    • Oh yes, I’ve noticed that with myself as well. With me it’s always more of a short-term thing when I’m stressed, which is different from what happened with Dan. The brain is so interesting, and complicated! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Janet, always thought provoking. My son’s first reaction was “how could anyone forget the intense pain,” however as you say, the brain is such an amazing and complicated organ that we really are only just discovering some of the mysteries. If you step back from the horror of it, and I do really mean the debilitating distress that those suffering go through, it can be fascinating the totally illogical thought process. Stress as you say can have a huge impact on these processes and memories and it is a blessing that your son’s recollection of that .part of his life is blank. I have reposted this on our website and thanks once again for your informative blogs, much appreciated.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Janis, and you are right, this is all so fascinating. How many people experience trauma yet aren’t able to recall details? I don’t think it’s that uncommon. Then again, as your son says, how could you NOT remember? Hope things are going well for you and your family and thanks again for sharing.

  3. Maybe in a strange way its good that he doesn’t remember, just a thought…

  4. PearBear says:

    I second this! It is really interesting because I have never come across someone not being able to remember the difficult periods before, but this has certainly been my experience with OCD. Now I am in a better place I have very little memory of when it was bad, nor of how I felt. It makes it really difficult to try to talk about what happened or explain it to people because I honestly just do not remember the details. I was never medicated, so I can only think that it a response to stress or a defence mechanism. Also now I am well, the last thing I want to do is remember how I felt, especially as thoughts drive the condition in the first place.
    It almost feels like the memories have just been switched off temporarily. I know they still exist because there is a fuzzy recollection of what happened but it would take a lot of energy and concentration to bring them back into the forefront of my mind.

    Thanks for the article and the blog, it’s nice to know that there are people out there that understand 🙂

    • Thank you so much for sharing PearBear, and for your kind words as well. Your story sounds so similar to my son’s, except he was on a lot of medication. It makes me feel better to think my son’s “memory loss” might not be medication related. Either way, the most important thing is that you are both doing well now! I wish you all the best and hope to hear from you again.

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